My Arrest Changed My Attitude About Life

Published: November 25, 2014 00:07 IST
(Devyani Khobragade is a diplomat and works for the Indian Foreign Service.)

I turned 40 this year and decided that I should  now start living my life. My distressing arrest December last year vividly brought in the realisation that one morning I could drop my children to school and drop dead. Life is ephemeral  and I have to live it according to my beliefs, my passions, for my happiness - with gratitude and compassion.

So, on my birthday, I resolved to drink more smoothies, make more time for exercise,  speak my mind without  the fear of the consequences, start working for causes that embody my beliefs and hopes.

My adversity turned into an opportunity as I refocused inside and reevaluated my priorities and values as externalities went completely beyond control - devastatingly affecting my professional and personal life.

So, what if i had turned from a person to "l'affaire khobragade"; so what if I was alleged, accused and suspected of things that even went against my grain; so what if my integrity was under question and my career was in the doldrums!

I asked myself how my happiness could be affected by things beyond my control. To  improve my mental endurance, I started vipassana, perhaps the  most austere and rigorous form of  meditation, and soon realised I needed more physical endurance to support my mental quest - that the way to the mind was through knowing your body's responses and being attuned to them.

So I started running, waking up early for a mediation and a run. Even as I started running, I could see the man-woman disparity in opportunity. While my male friends and colleagues could run outdoors easily after work at night,  I could not dream of stepping out, and had to run within the safety of the perimeter of my residential compound, howsoever boring and uninspiring it may have been.

That's how I decided to run the Marathon two months ago.  As I was filling up the registration form for this particular Marathon, a question popped up - Why do you want to run the Marathon? - and the answer came very naturally to me -I I wanted to run to claim the public spaces that rightfully and equally belong to us women.

How many times does an Indian woman, especially living in Delhi and small cities, towns, and villages  get to  experience their own road, the common public space, at her own terms? On the contrary, one always sees men dominating the public space as their own, doing and saying what they want, and most audaciously flaunting all public decorum - the prime example of it being urinating against any public wall that they can conveniently locate.

I wanted to run the roads without the fear of being stared at, or having lecherous comments passed at me, or cars stopping, slowing down near me.

And I ran - freely and happily; although in a controlled environment,  but nevertheless I could experience my city through its public places. I could witness that feeling and it was exhilarating and liberating. For the first time I felt I belong to Delhi and Delhi now belongs to me.

Like I felt growing up in Mumbai that I could eat wada pao or bhel on the roads, take a train back from college at 11 pm at night, sit at Marine Drive with my girlfriends and try out my first smoke, feeling free and without watching  my back.

I  ran the marathon with the hope that  more women can come out and run, play and enjoy their own  city, town or village. It's my hope as a mother of two girls and my collective responsibility with all Indians to make our public spaces safer for our girls and women. And a greater responsibility of Indian men to provide an  equal space and equal freedom and respect to our girls and women in public (and in private).

So here is cheers to more women running the Delhi marathon next year and more women and girls feeling safe and happy outside.

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